Text Coverage & DCC’s Top 1000

**Updated 2.25.21 with details from this post**

The DCC frequency list is often consulted for choosing which words to use when writing Latin for students. It certainly makes sense to use ones they might encounter over and over again vs. those they might not, but *how* frequent are these frequent words? In particular, I was curious what a student could probably read having acquired the Top 1000 words on DCC’s list. Here’s some quick background…

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Agrippīna aurīga: Published!

If you like Rūfus et arma ātra, you’ll love Agrippīna aurīga. This might very well be my most engaging text yet, at what I’ve come to see as the the rare “Goldilocks” intersection of comprehension, confidence, and compellingness.

Young Agrippina wants to race chariots, but a small girl from Lusitania couldn’t possibly do that…could she?! After a victorious race in the stadium of Emerita, the local crowd favorite charioteer, Gaius Appuleius Dicloes, runs into trouble, and it’s up to Agrippina to step into much bigger shoes. Can she take on the reins in this equine escapade?

24 cognates + 33 other words
1800 total length

We’ve known Piso’s family is from Hispānia all along. This book picks up on that with Agrippina, our strong mother, back in her childhood stomping grounds. I wanted to write a book with more action that could follow Rūfus et arma ātra. It turns out that I might want to read this before the sword-slinging saga. Agrippīna aurīga is written at a very similar level, though with 24 cognates compared to just two in Rūfus, and besides, I’ve realized that there’s no need to always increase the difficulty and length of each new book. In fact, that might be one way some kids get left in the dust. So, jumping “ahead” a little bit with this (aurīga) only to read a shorter book with fewer words (arma ātra) afterwards not only will go faster, but will also feel more confident a read for the students. Plus, it provides multiple opportunities to re-engage students who aren’t keeping up with reading on their own, and/or are missing far too many classes.

Michael Sintros (Duinneall), who worked with me on the creepy content of Quīntus et nox horrifica audiobook, once again has delivered engaging, ambient music with a new fantastic ancient instrument library. I cannot stress enough how crucial I’ve found these audiobooks to be towards making an unforgettable classroom experience. If I could combine the audio on Amazon as one purchase, I would, but you’ll have to get audio from Bandcamp to listen to with a physical book. Note that the eBooks from both Storylabs & Polyglots have audio included.

Chapter 1 excerpt
Chapter 2 excerpt
Chapter 3 excerpt
Chapter 4 excerpt
Chapter 5 excerpt
  1. For Sets, Packs, eBooks, and Audio—with reduced pricesorder here
  2. Amazon
  3. eBooks: Storylabs & Polyglots (<– now includes audiobook!)
  4. Audiobook
  5. Free preview (through Chapter 5, no illustrations)

“…& Classical Humanities”

Almost every degree and teaching license I know of related to Latin attaches “& Classical Humanities” to the end. That is, it’s rare to study and teach the Latin language without also studying and teaching Classical Humanities.

Why is this?

I know, I know. They’re two peas in a pod. It might seem obvious since the culture most associated with Latin is Roman, part of the Classical era. Yet Latin has been around for thousands of years, right? Many cultures have used Latin, and not all of that Latin has been about the Romans, either. Consider teaching Classical Humanities without Latin. It’d be a history class focus on a particular time period, right? That’s like a history class on 18th century Spain. Now consider a high school Spanish language class. Surely, students don’t learn only about the18th century, much less Spain’s entire history, or even focus on just Spain at all! There are tons of Spanish-speaking cultures that have written about a ton of different stuff, and Spanish language classes take that into account.

Why not Latin?

Of course, the context of a Spanish class seems different, but is it, really? The Latin language didn’t die with the fall of the Roman Empire. In fact, non-Roman cultures have now been using Latin longer than the Romans existed. I’m not saying there are now more texts written by non-Romans than Romans. Then again…

TheLatinLibrary.com
The second I wrote that, I suddenly realized I had no idea whether it could be true. In what a colleague would say is very “on brand” of me, I ran some numbers through Voyant Tools, taking all ancient Latin texts from TheLatinLibrary, and comparing the total words to the Miscellany, Christian, Medieval, and Neo-Latin categories. It must be noted right away that this doesn’t represent all of the world’s extant Latin. In fact, I’m reading a work of elegiac couplets from the 15th century by Vincent Obsopoeus that’s nowhere to be found on TheLatinLibrary. There are thousands of words of Latin in there, but it won’t appear in my data. You won’t find works like Cornelia, or Ora Maritima, either. There’s no Hobbitus Ille in the data, and women are utterly underrepresented, with perhaps just Sulpicia and Egeria included in TheLatinLibrary at all. So, my source has its flaws, yet what we have of ancient Roman Latin is all there, or nearly all there, and these estimates* help put things into perspective. Of course, I went into this wondering if the world has surpassed the Romans in writing of Latin—prompting more inquiry into why the Classical Humanities are still a focus in high school Latin study—and the truth is undeniable, especially when acknowledging there’s so much recent Latin unaccounted for. Bottom, line, far more Latin has been written since the Romans than what you see here, which is already more than what we have from them:

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A Solution To Asking Wrong Questions (e.g. “How Do You Teach X?”): Focus & Flip

Ask 10 teachers how they teach X, and you’ll probably get 10 different responses. However, if you flip it, and instead ask “how do students learn X?” you might get what in many cases is the only answer. Furthermore, it helps to focus the question first because most “how do you teach X?” questions are way too broad. Teachers can’t possibly teach everything about X, so there’s gotta be a more specific outcome to the question. What is the point of X? Or, what are students expected to do, or know about X? For example…

  1. Take a question teachers always ask:
    • How do you teach the subjunctive?
  2. Focus it:
    • How do you teach students to identify subjunctive verb forms?
  3. Flip It:
    • How do students learn to identify subjunctive verb forms?

In this case, the answer is quite simple: students must memorize verb forms. There’s no way around that one. Humans won’t spontaneously infer which verbs are subjunctive. To identify them, students will have to be shown what they are, commit them to memory, and then recall from memory. So, the teacher who expects students to identify subjunctive verb forms needs to provide them, and hope their students have good memories (oh right, that last part is out of their control). Not a very reliable thing to expect, it turns out.

Consider back to the alternative, too. Just think of all the different answers you could get to “how do you teach the subjunctive?” They’ll probably all be from the teacher’s perspective, like descriptions of activities, and have nothing to do with the actual learning that must go on, too. This is probably why so many teachers reinvent the wheel year after year. The teaching isn’t actually addressing what students need to learn. Of course, that grammar question is a bit silly since the focus doesn’t have much use. Let’s look at a related question with a more useful purpose…

  1. Q: How do you get students using the subjunctive?
  2. Focus: How do you get students to speak using accurate subjunctive verb forms?
  3. Flip: How do students learn to accurately speak using subjunctive verb forms?

This answer is also simple: time & exposure. Accuracy, especially in speaking, isn’t expected for the first years (3-4+), with or without any “error” correction, either. For any language to come out (output), students need lots of examples coming in (input). So, the teacher who expects accurate use of subjunctive, then, needs to ensure that there are tons of examples of subjunctive verb forms in what students listen to and read. Oh, and they also need to have patience. Any teacher who expects—and gets—beginner students speaking accurate subjunctive verb forms either doesn’t know the research, measures that in isolation and moves on, or is seeing short term memory results. Yet also probably holds “review” sessions each year!

So, give Focus & Flip a try!

Love Stories

Wait…next week is Valentine’s Day already?! Crazy. Also, it’s kind of a terrible holiday, though isn’t it? My best memories are of the perforated cards you’d exchange in elementary school just hoping one kid had cool enough parents to buy them the Valentines that had Thundercats or GI Joe characters being all lovey on them. Never liked the heart candy; those were just awful. Anyway, if you have the following books on hand, consider reading them to students this week, or scoop up one of the new eBooks so students can read on their own. Here are novellas that contain stories about the joys of relationships, as well as their challenges:

Sitne amor? (Amazon, eBook Polyglots, eBook on Storylabs)
For first year Latin students, there’s the LGBTQ-friendly book of 2400 words about desire, and discovery, in which Piso crashes and burns when he’s around Syra.

Pluto: fabula amoris (Amazon)
For first or second year Latin students looking for a quick read in a book of 1070 words, there’s this take on the Pluto & Proserpina myth.

Pandora (Amazon, eBook Polyglots, eBook on Storylabs)
For first year Latin students looking for a longer novella of 4200 total words, there’s the adaptation of the Pandora myth.

Ovidius Mus (Amazon)
The three stories based on Ovid in this book 1075 words are designed for readers at the end of their first year.

Unguentum (Amazon)
This book of 1575 words is an adaptation of Catullus 13, and includes tiered versions of the original.

Euryidice: fabula amoris (Amazon)
This book, much like its prequel Pluto, includes a different take on the Eurydice & Orpheus myth.

Medea et Peregrinus Pulcherrimus (Amazon)
A Latin III book of 7500 words in this adaptation of the Golden Fleece.

Carmen Megilli (Amazon)
A Latin III book of 9300 words in this that includes an LGBTQ-friendly love story.

Cupid et Psyche (Amazon)
A Latin III/IV book of 8800 words in this adaptation of of Apuleius.

Ira Veneris (Amazon)
A Latin III/IV book of 11000 words in this follow-up to Cupid & Psyche.

Something Strange…

Before I started teaching in 2013, I joined the moreTPRS Yahoo list serve. Then in 2015, I joined Ben Slavic’s PLC. At that time, there were daily—DAILY—conversations about Second Language Acquisition (SLA), with really tough questions being asked, answered, and debated ad nauseam. Then Tea With BVP was launched, with weekly shows until 2018—here are my clips down to the nuts & bolts. N.B. That show was rebooted in a different iteration as TalkinL2 until just about a year ago. Needless to say, I learned a great deal in those five years; far more, in fact, than in my MAT program (no offense, just a result of SLA expert-lacking faculty nationwide).

I cannot overstate this enough when I say that those early years were simply *crucial* in the development of what we all learned about SLA, and teaching languages. Furthermore, what we now know has also been around for like 10, 20, 30, even 40 years beforehand! That is, most scholarship in the last decades haven’t really changed the game of what’s been discussed since the 70s. The problem? This stuff wasn’t (isn’t?) mainstream—at all. That “golden age” of my SLA development involved the constant interaction with perhaps 200, maybe 300 teachers, almost all of whom I can reach out to with a click. I also had direct access to researchers, their ideas, as well as teachers implementing and arguing about what is, essentially, “best practice” for teaching languages in schools. When we didn’t understand, we emailed and got answers. And we were fringe. Having been exposed to the same ideas over and over—not just Krashen & VanPatten—thankfully from a variety of perspectives courtesy of Eric Herman, a solid understanding of universal truths (as much as we can call them that in the field of SLA) was being discussed.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a LOT of disequilibrium that nearly everyone had to face (e.g. “wait, so you’re saying that…”), and it was not without major headaches. After all, teachers’ worlds were literally being turned upside-down (no, I do mean literally like what you thought was the cause was just a result). Even the researchers’ ideas were challenged—by “mere” teachers no less—and fruitful discussion emerged, like when Carol Gaab demanded a concrete response about whether co-creating a story was a communicative act (i.e. had purpose). N.B. Yes, it is; entertainment. There was significant growth at that time, but it wasn’t all roses. We could call a spade a spade, or at least all come to agreement that a heart was definitely not a spade, and then talk about how to make that heart into a spade. Granted, this was within the fringe group of hundreds of teachers who had that shared experience, but there was definitely some kind of “tell me if what I’m talking about is complete nonsense” agreement. Whatever it was, it now feels like he heyday of theory to practice and critical looks at each others’ teaching.

Then…

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Latin Students & Scholars

When looking at other not-Latin course curricula in schools, it occurred to me that Latin classes are typically taught as if all students will become Latin scholars. That’s kind of crazy. What’s even crazier? Most teachers don’t have the expectation that all, or even some of their students will become Latin scholars. However, it’s definitely how Latin has been taught, historically (re: goals not aligned with practices). Sure, some schools have the “honors” distinction, making other courses “college prep,” and a common goal of the K-12 system is to prepare students for college. However, does every subject prepare its students to be scholars of that subject before they get to college?

No way.

Let’s look at some examples. I asked my colleagues if a student could a) go on to study their content area’s major in college without taking additional electives beyond basic high school graduation requirements, or b) would they need that kind of boost to get into a program and become a scholar in the field? These were the responses:

Math
“That’s a great question. For the most part, the specialization or focus on math would occur in college. While it would definitely be beneficial for a student to have already taken Calculus or Statistics, AP or otherwise if they’re entering a math field, it’s not necessary. They would still be able to take those courses offered at the college level and pass, assuming they had gained the necessary prerequisite knowledge from their high school courses.”

Science
“In terms of jumping into a science major with little to no background, I think this is the case with the majority of students. They will certainly pick it up in college. YES – high school students could hypothetically have had no science and still become scientists.

ELA
“No typically they would just jump in with 100 level intro courses.”

So, high school courses provide the same level of understanding to both humanities-bound students and STEM-bound students, regardless what students are goin on to study, and it’s only in college that study begins to get specialized. Just as you wouldn’t expect every high school graduate to be a math scholar, every student shouldn’t be expected to be a Latin scholar, right? Yet the literature Latin students are asked to read—typically—is waaaaaaaaay too high. If high school graduates of every subject start their college major at a 100 level course, why are Latin students—in high school—expected to read literature you’d expect in a 200, 300, or even 400 level college course?! There’s just no solid rationale for this scholar-level of study to begin in high school.

To boot, the real story is a bit more grim when you consider how many Latin students bound for Classics programs *do not* continue at that supposed level anyway, instead repeating basic 100 level Latin courses once in college anyway. So, if every high school program prepares students to be independent learners, pursuing whatever major they want in college, why on Earth have Latin teachers been fussing around with texts waaaaaaay beyond the reach of what’s level-appropriate, even to become a scholar in that field?!?!?!

It’s inexplicable.

Student Ownership: Prompts & Novella Month

You’re looking at one of my student’s illustrations. The prompt was to read a description and draw the cover of a new book (coming laaaaaaate spring, btw):

Marcus likes being a young Roman mage, but such a conspicuous combo presents problems in provincial Egypt after he and his parents relocate from Rome. Despite generously offering magical medicine to the locals, this young mage feels like an obvious outsider, sometimes wishing he were invisible. Have you ever felt that way? Marcus searches Egypt for a place to be openly accepted, and even has a run-in with the famously fiendish Sphinx! Can Marcus escape unscathed?

The result in all classes was some pretty amazing buy-in before we even got to the first page! The prompt I chose also generated class content—the source of that class’ Picture Talk—for which students don’t have to be artists like this one; stick figures are great, especially the really silly ones that get everyone laughing…

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“Not-Reading” Synonyms

It would take a proficient Latin speaker about 7 hours to read Caesar’s Dē Bellō Gallicō—in its entirety*—at a slow pace (i.e. half the average reading speed).** For comparison, a proficient English speaker reading at the same pace would take over twice as long to get through The Hate U Give (~15 hours). One of these texts is level-appropriate, and now commonly used in 9th grade classes along with 4-5 other full length books and many other short texts throughout the year. The other is nowhere near level-appropriate, yet commonly used in 11th or 12th grade classes as roughly half the year’s focus—certainly not in its entirety—with selections comprising just 13% of the full text. It should be clear which is which, and any K-12 teacher who says their students read Caesar is being as truthful as today’s outgoing president, who has mislead and lied over 29,000 times in office.*** Yet if not an outright lie, the claim of reading Caesar is still highly misleading, and should be addressed ASAP…

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“My Time:” A Remote Learning Solution

“Why are students failing?” Or, more specifically, “why are teachers failing students, especially in a pandemic?” A question like that was asked on Twitter sometime last month, and I had a fairly simple take on the matter: teachers didn’t adjust expectations. Sure, kids might not be “doing the work,” but it’s teachers who determine evidence of learning that comprises “the work” in the first place. Our reality is that most evidence of learning we used to get just isn’t possible remotely, or there are significant obstacles in the way. Bottom line, teachers have set expectations that not every student can meet. Even though I anticipated this, my expectations still needed adjusting, too. First, here’s a brief rundown of problems that lead to the “My Time” solution…

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